A quaint, small book, its pages brittle with age, was lent to this writer some years ago by Herbert S. Casey, of Wayne, in connection with information for the column. Printed in 1855 by T.K. and P.G. Collins, of Philadelphia, the book is entitled “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad, with Extensive Map including the Entire Route with all its windings, objects of Interest and Information Useful to the Traveler.”
And since the Pennsylvania Railroad, in spite of the continuously increasing number of automobiles on the highways, still forms a vital link of transportation between the Main Line and Philadelphia, it seems timely to repeat in “Your Town and My Town,” some of the facts of its early history, just as it has seemed timely in recent columns to do so with the early history of the Main Line itself.
The map is indeed an extensive one – its pages, too frail for this writer to dare unfold many times, measuring two yards in length, covering the railroad route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Going back as it does to a period now more than one hundred years past, those entire two yards are of great interest to the historian. Of particular interest to the writer and to her readers, however, are the first few inches of the map, which include that part of the railroad between Philadelphia and Paoli.
Even 100 years ago, the Pennsylvania Railroad was recognized as an almost indispensable link between the “eastern or Atlantic cities and those situated on the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers.” Back in the 1830’s, there seemed some doubt, however, whether the Allegheny Mountains could be passed on a direct route to Pittsburgh, without an inclined plane.
In 1838, the first survey was made by William E. Morris, an engineer, while in 1841 Charles L. Schlatter was appointed by the Board of Canal Commissioners to make a full survey for a railway from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.
Our “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad” relates that “The first meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia in relation to building the road was held at the Chinese Museum on the 10th of December, 1842. It was an unusually large meeting, at which a determined spirit was manifested to prosecute this great work. Thomas P. Cope was called to the chair. A preamble and resolutions urging the importance of the work were offered by William M. Meredith and unanimously adopted. A large committee on memorials to the legislature, praying for an act of incorporation and a committee of nine to prepare and publish an address to the citizens of Pennsylvania, setting forth the views and objects of the meeting were appointed.”
At this meeting, Mr. Cope was chosen president. He was the great-great-grandfather of Mr. Casey, a well-known citizen of Radnor township, a close friend of Stephen Girard and one of the executors of the latter’s famous will. Mr. Cope was one of three brothers who organized the group of packet ships between England and America.
As soon as the act to incorporate the Pennsylvania Railroad was passed on April 13, 1846, a large town meeting was called in Philadelphia, for the purpose of taking measures to bring the corporation into existence. A specially appointed committee prepared an address to be issued in pamphlet form. Private and corporate subscriptions soon rose to a total of $2½ million. From this meeting in April, construction of the road was authorized and begun with a charter bearing the date of April 13, 1846.
By the time the first “Guide” was published in 1855, the line of the road between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was complete. At that time it had three owners, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania holding that part extending from the city to Dillersville, one mile above Lancaster, consisting of a double track some 69 miles long; from Dillersville to Harrisburg, the Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad held a distance of 36 miles, and the remaining 248 miles between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
According to one map, the old depot seems to have been on the Delaware River, at the foot of Market street. According to the description given in 1855, “the cars are drawn from the depot by horse or mule power, out Market street and across the Schuylkill Permanent Bridge, at the west end of which they take the locomotives… After taking steam, we pass up the Schuylkill in full view of the Wire Bridge on the right, the Fairmount Water Works, and the beautiful waterfall over the Dam, and the placid sheet as far as the eye can see. The new bridge at Girard avenue may also be seen and Girard College, with snowy whiteness and its magnificent marble columns and marble roof, overlooking the city and surrounding county for miles.”
“The State locomotive engine house is immediately on the road to the right, a few hundred yards from the place of starting. Thence passing through a deep cut, we curve round and pursue nearly a westerly course, leaving the city and its busy multitude behind. In rounding the curve to the left, we may observe the West Philadelphia Water Works, being a very high iron column cylinder, encircled with an iron stairway. Three miles from the depot, we pass Hestonville on our left, then Libertyville and Athensville and arrive at White Hall, ten miles from the city.”
(To be Continued)